Discovery in a lawsuit: copies, copies everywhere

Every couple of months, I receive in the mail a wondrous catalogue from a small, highly specialized firm called Tesseract. I put the catalogue aside for a few days until I have the time to loll on my couch, read it and marvel at the photographs of early scientific instruments Tesseract offers for sale.

Tesseract is the business of my school friend Yola and her husband David Coffeen. In every catalogue I find miraculous, beautiful devices that are great works of art and human ingenuity. I especially enjoy the paragraphs of fascinating history and provenance the Coffeens write for each instrument.

(What is a tesseract? Well, a few years ago I asked my then nine-year-old cousin Miriam, who is a budding math genius, and she gave me a concise, elegant definition. Later, I asked her uncle, a fully flowered math genius, and he gave me a denser, equally elegant definition. But since my math skills are formidable in the pragmatic domestic arena only, I won’t attempt to pass their wisdom on to you. If you want to comprehend a tesseract — it’s conceptual and elusive — go find a math genius of your very own.)

But what, you ask quite reasonably, does Tesseract have to do with discovery in a lawsuit, and the thousands of copies of discovery documents that have to be analyzed and logged in? And then copied again and again as deposition and trial exhibits?

This is what: in my latest Tesseract catalogue (winter, 2012/2013), a full two pages are devoted to a historical presentation and photographs of “The First Patented Copying Machine; James Watt portable copying machine,” dating from around 1790.

(When visiting Monticello, I marveled at an entirely different copying device invented by Thomas Jefferson, probably around that same time.)

Watt’s machine is ingenious. Here’s Tesseract’s delightful description of how it works: “In use the original must be written with good ink, then pressed against a moistened sheet of thin unsized paper, and run through the rolling-press to transfer a bit of the original ink onto the copy paper. Watt recommended making a special ink for this purpose, either by dissolving his copying powders in boiling water to which ‘the addition of a fmall teafpoonful of good French brandy…helps to prevent it from molding…'”

Isn’t that exactly what we do now, except on a xerox? And maybe without the good French brandy?

(BTW, if you’ve got the funds, this copying machine would make a terrific present for your favorite lawyer.)

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